• Gordon Donovan

In Search of Influence

Much has been written around the changing needs of the procurement skill set and more of a reliance on soft skills. One of the key soft skills is the ability to influence.

So what do we mean by influencing what are the key traits of influential people and how can we develop these skills?

A few years ago whilst completing my masters, my dissertation looked at influencing within procurement and how to develop these skills. The below guide is a subset of this study and I have published an in depth white paper on this for CIPS which is in their knowledge works set.

What is influence?

Influencing skills, could be defined as the ability to get people to do what you want[i] or changing people’s behaviour to act in your favour through the use of persuasion[ii], or wielding effective tactics of persuasion[iii].

How can we influence

Dale Carnegie[iv] wrote, that in order to become effective influencers then we need to influence people at an individual level, and that the steps for effective influencing are;

· If you want to make a good first impression, smile.

· If you want others to like you, don’t criticize them.

· If you want others to gladly do you favours, show your appreciation frequently

· If you want to be interesting yourself, be interested in others.

· Show your appreciation for others by talking about what’s important to them

· We like people who show their appreciation and remember things about us, like our names.

· Avoid all arguments – they cannot be won

· Never tell others they are wrong; they will only resent you.

· Whenever you are wrong, admit it immediately and clearly.

· To be convincing, get others to say “yes” as often as possible.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the capacity of people’s ability to recognize their own and to understand and recognized others emotions and use that information to guide behavior and therefore influence.

Goleman argues that just having one persuasion skill alone, and deploying just one may not be good enough to gain influence. He argues that being influential is having the ability to sense what other kinds of appeals will persuade key decision makers. Critically, Goleman argues, it is noticing when one tactic isn’t working and when to switch to a different one which adds impact to an individual.

So what are persuasion skills?


Manningham and Robertson[v] identified that 6 influencing strategies

· Reason – the use of logic or facts to justify a request

· Assertion – making a direct request and using emotion to underline our need

· Exchange – The trading of one thing for another

· Courting favour – being friendly or positive with them (see Carnegie)

· Coercion - The implication of negative outcomes on not agreeing

· Partnership – gaining the support of people both within and outside the organisation.

In developing the research on persuasion tools, Reynolds developed the Persuasion Tools Model[vi] based on work by the psychologist Kenneth Berrien. It links negotiation and persuasion style to emotional intelligence (EI) and echoes the work of Manning and Robertson

Key traits of great influencers

These key traits and ways to develop have been identified by the author following a range of discussions with procurement leaders.

1) Excellent communication skills

The most important trait to of influential people was the ability to communicate effectively. The key aspects were identified as:

· Develop and adapt communication plans based on the listener

· Made persuasive arguments

· Listened to the responses and read the room

2) Delivered results and built trust

The need to deliver on the promises that have been was seen as a “ticket to entry” to a wider discussion. Therefore the ability to keep ones promises i.e. contractual trust[vii] was identified as a non-negotiable to build trust both for the individual and the function.

3) Top influencers have empathy (and not sympathy)

Sympathetic listening is that we care and show we care about the other person and we pay close attention and maybe share their feelings, whereas when we listen empathetically, we go beyond sympathy and attempt to seek a fuller understanding in how others are feeling.

4) The best influencers have great knowledge and great passion

Top influencers need to have credibility in order to be considered influential. When reviewing top influencers all of those people had “been there, done that” and were able to bring a huge amount of experience and credibility.

5) Networked and built great teams

The idea of networking with other senior leaders and influencers is an important leadership development tool.

How to develop influencing skills

So if these are the key traits of influence, how do we go about developing these skills? Which training course should we go on?

1) Observation is king

Top influencers identified that the observation of others; especially those that they felt were influential was a key to developing their skills. They also stated that they learnt as much from bad influencers as good ones, as this leads to things definitely not to do!

2) Training programs can add value…but need to be linked to on the job development

Attending a specific training program can provide lightbulb moments in terms of developing influencing skills, however many top influencers stated that this was unlikely to be a “learned skill” from a textbook, but more of an acquired skill through observation and mentoring.

3) Feedback loops from trusted and diverse sources

The requirement for an independent person to review performances and give detailed feedback on what was done well and not done well was considered to be a key ingredient to developing these skills.

4) Practice makes perfect

The need to practice the new skills when they had learned them links back to the earlier identified method of more on the job based training, or more planned activities following specific training programs, top influencers have stated that the more they practiced and prepared the better they got.


▪ There is a need to identify who you are trying to influence and decide on the best way to influence that individual.

▪ This means that the practitioner needs to have multiple ways to influence rather than rely on the same approach for all.

▪ If you want to develop your influencing skills then there is a key need to understand the way you process information and learn new skills.

▪ Observational skills are paramount to increasing your influencing skills.

[i] Mullins, L. (1996). Management and organization. 4th ed. Pitman

[ii] Manning T; Robertson B; (2003),"Influencing and negotiating skills: Part I: influencing strategies and styles", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 35 Iss 1 pp. 11 – 15;

[iii] Goleman D (1998) Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ; Bloomsbury Publishing

[iv] Carnegie D; (1937) How to win friends and influence people: Simon and Schuster

[v] Manning T; Robertson B; (2003),"Influencing and negotiating skills; Part II: influencing styles and negotiating skills", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 35 Iss 2 pp. 60 – 66;

[vi] Reynolds, A. (2003) 'Emotional Intelligence and Negotiation,' Hampshire: Tommo Press

[vii] Sako M; Does trust improve business performance? London School of economics 1997

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